02/21/2012 07:21 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

Should Women be More Selfish?

"Selfish" is a dirty word for most of us. The dictionary defines selfish as: "devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others."

The women I know wouldn't fit this definition and most aim to stay far away from it ... even if it means ignoring their own needs, desires and, often times, their health.

Some would argue against this, but I believe it's in women's DNA to comfort others. However, it becomes a problem when we give too much. When we stretch our forever-opened arms too wide and realize that we can't take on anymore. When the tsunami of other people's needs finally overtakes us and we lose ourselves.

And then what?

Do we take "happy pills" so that we can get through our days, our weeks ... our lives? Does alcohol become our comforter? Do we abandon all that is near and dear to us for a shot at fulfillment ... and dare I say, passion?

There are no easy answers, but surely wallowing in daily sorrow is far worse than being selfish.

It is not that we aren't reminded that we need to take care of ourselves before we can care for others. At just about every woman's retreat, a speaker includes the analogy of the oxygen masks that fall during a flight in distress. We are told that although our natural instinct is to first put the masks on our children or loved ones, we must start by putting it on ourselves so that we will be able to adequately assist them.

We know this, yet still find it hard to take the time to get our own breath of fresh air. We feel guilty doing what makes us happy. We don't want to make anyone mad lest they stop loving us or leave. We put up with crap (and yes we know it's crap) because we are afraid of change. Bottom line -- we don't stand up for ourselves and demand that our needs are met because that would be considered selfish!

Now, let me step back and say this is not a referendum on marriage or parenthood. There are plenty of single, childless women who also give too much of themselves to others and suffer the consequences. Women of all stripes have a problem with saying NO!

It is far too easy to blame others for our "give too much" predicament. We can point our fingers at the spouse who never helps around the house, the kids that expect us to meet their every whim, or the boss who considers us always available. And let's not forget our parents, siblings, coworkers and friends who demand our time and attention. Yes, it is easier to blame them than to admit there are times when we'd rather be doing what we want than what they want. To us, this is selfish.

Sometimes those close to us may indeed make us feel guilty for not "being there" for them or doing what they want us to do. This is just human nature and is still not an excuse for putting ourselves at risk of physical and/or mental exhaustion.

Nevertheless, this "give too much" syndrome is something we have to take ownership of ourselves. If we don't, we let resentment build up until we either explode or leave (one way or the other).

Over the years, I have seen that women who give too much don't necessarily fare well as they age. They may end up alone, tired, frustrated and broke. We have to teach our young women to selfishly look out after their own interests, both financially and emotionally. We need to teach our sons this also. No able-bodied person should be totally dependent on another person to cook and clean for them, pay their bills, fight their battles, or be their "everything!"

Wouldn't it be better to be a little more selfish? I'm not saying abandoning our obligations (family, work, community) but, we all need time and activities for ourselves in order to grow and thrive. Or, maybe just to relax and sleep!

I heard a woman say recently that she wouldn't mind checking into a hospital (with a very minor illness of course) so that she could rest and have someone to take care of her for a change. I am convinced that illnesses among women (real or imagined) are often caused by the body reaching its capacity for care giving, or the mind revolting from having its own thoughts and desires dismissed in favor of someone else's.

It seems the women who do best in life are those who acknowledge their needs, honor their own perspective and adapt to changing circumstances. If they have to change jobs; go back to school or work; move to another location; or strike out on their own, they do it. They still love others, but they love themselves more -- enough to not compromise their own physical and mental well-being. They understand the importance of being healed and whole. They are then able to love others as they love themselves.

Selfish? Maybe ... but probably the best way to live.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." Steve Jobs